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Asking for Donations: When Does “No” Mean “No”?

The following is a cross-post by Amy Eisenstein, author, speaker, trainer, and owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm.

Amy Eisenstein

You’ve prepared.

You’ve practiced.

You’ve overcome your fear of asking for a donation.

So you ask for a gift, and they say “no.”

But how do you know when “no” really means “no”?

I tell my kids “no” all the time. Yet, it doesn’t stop them from asking again, and again, and again. They do this for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they’ve learned that sometimes “no” turns into “yes” if they ask frequently and persistently enough.

So how come as adults, we’re much more likely to take an initial no as a final no?

Turning “No” into “Yes”

In fundraising, some of the best development directors are those who can take a “no” and turn it into a “yes.” When you get a “no” for whatever reason, your job is to ask why? That’s the most important question you can ask. Get to the core reason, and explore if there’s a way to turn the “no” into “yes.”

Before asking a prospective donor for a contribution, you’ll want to consider all of their possible responses, so you’re prepared to respond appropriately.

In general, there are three types of response:

1. yes

2. no

3. maybe

In fundraising, “yes” and “maybe” are great answers, but “no” can be good too. “No” is an opportunity to explore, build the relationship, ask more questions, and encourage engagement.

It’s up to you to find out why the person is saying no, and how you can turn their no into a yes.

4 Reasons Why Prospective Donors Say “No”

There are many reasons why people say no. Four of the most common include:

1. Wrong time.

Money is tight at the moment for whatever reason. Six months or a year from now might be better. Or, they could need more information before making a decision.

2. Wrong project.

They love your organization. They’re really interested in the after school program — but you asked for the preschool program.

3. Wrong amount.

You asked for too much or too little. Once you ask some good follow-up questions, you may be delighted to receive a gift of another amount.

4. Wrong asker.

This is often the most difficult issue to identify, but it’s possible that your donor just doesn’t click with the board member you brought along. Keep your intuition tuned for issues like this, because they will often go unspoken.

Going Further

There are some great posts around the web pertaining to this topic. Here are two of my favorites:

Have you ever turned a “no” into a “yes”? I’d love to know about in the comments.

Fundraising expert Amy Eisenstein is a respected author, speaker, and trainer, as well as the owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm. She specializes in fundraising consulting for local and national nonprofits. Her “no-nonsense” approach to fundraising yields big results for her clients and readers. You can read her original blog post here.

Follow Amy on Twitter @amyeisenstein or connect on Facebook.


May 9, 2012 at 9:39 am

Sage advice! And proof that digging deep with the people who support your mission is critical! It’s not about us, it’s about them!!

Topics: Fundraising